The Burden of Prophecy: Poetic Utterance in the Prophets of the Old Testament

By Albert Cook | Go to book overview

5
Sign, Song, and Prayer in the Dynamic Internality of Psalms

I N PSALMS, the prophet drops out as an intermediary and the elements of discourse undergo a shift. "The people" directly address God, even if the formation of this or that particular psalm is attributed to some traditional author, notably the prophetic figure David. And even if a first person is used, it must be construed as a collective first person under an associative conception of the psalms taken together in their literary form -- as well as in the immemorial use of the Psalter for the communal recitation of worship. "There is no more any prophet [for us]" -- this statement, which comes forward in the fluid process of one psalm (74.9), is a statement impossible in prophecy itself.

When a psalm speaks of transgressions, it tends to be with contrition rather than with a prophet's warning in view. And when it speaks of joy, it tends to celebrate rather than to promise. Typically and pervasively, the psalms speak of direct interaction between God and people, as in this run, which recalls the possibility of bounty even as it recounts punishment for apostasy:

I am the Lord thy God
Which brought thee out of the land of Egypt:
Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.
But my people would not hearken to my voice;
And Israel would none of me.
So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust:
And they walked in their own counsels.
Oh that my people had hearkened unto me,
And Israel had walked in my ways!
I should soon have subdued their enemies,
And turned my hand against their adversaries.
The haters of the Lord should have submitted themselves unto
him:

-88-

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